Updated: Apr 11, 2021
If you’re a performing artist, you know that you spend a lot of time in rehearsal. And there is a lot to do in any given rehearsal, so you want to make the most of the time that you have. You don’t want to hold everyone else up while you search for something that you need. That’s why it’s important to be prepared for anything. Not only do you need to have on hand the tools of your trade, but you also need to have the tools to quickly solve any unexpected issues so that you can get on with the rehearsal. Whether you are an actor, a director, a musician, a dancer, or all of these, there are some things that you should have on hand. Here is a list of suggestions for you to add to your rehearsal bag. You may need all of these or only some depending on the type of rehearsal you are attending and how much space you have in your bag. In any case, you will certainly be glad that you were prepared. I have provided a shopping link for my recommendation of every item in order to make it easier for you.
1. Script and/or Music
This is a no-brainer, but everyone forgets at least once in their lifetime. So it’s a good idea to double-check your bag before you leave home, especially if you were up late reviewing your notes. A borrowed copy of material doesn’t have those notes, so chances are you will miss a cue, a beat, a breath mark, or whatever other special markings you have in your copy.
2. Pencil and Highlighter
You are not being professional if you are not making notes. This usually means marking your material. Before you make a mark on your music or script, however, make sure that you don’t have a copy that has to be returned to the publisher. If you do, then you must stick to light pencil marks that can be easily erased later. Mechanical pencils are best for this because you don't have to worry about sharpening them. And make sure to buy high quality highlighters so the markings really stand out from the page. I like to make or buy my own copies of music and script. That way, I can write and highlight to my heart’s content without worrying about being fined. Be careful with copyright laws, however. Most of the time, they specify how many copies you are allowed to have, so if you copied any extras for your personal use, they will have to be destroyed when you are done with the show. Never use pens. Stage directions and music markings can change and then change back when the original change doesn’t work, and you don’t want to have a bunch of scribbles because you weren’t able to erase.
I could probably do a whole other post just on the notebook. It's as important as your script or music. I prefer a 3-ring binder so that I can add sections and various non-handwritten material. I make sure I use paper with reinforced holes and I always add a pen/pencil pouch and a small 3-hole punch, both the kind that lay flat and attach to the rings. For scripts, my copy is one-sided so that I have a blank page next to each page of script where I can take notes and even draw lines to specific changes in character motivation. If I’m directing or stage managing, the lines can be marking any number of things including light cues, sound cues, blocking, props notes, etc. For music, I prefer two-sided copies for easier reading. If a piece of music is only two pages long, I will copy the pages such that I do not have to flip to see the second page. I always have a separate section for notes that are more in depth. If I’m directing, I will put a date at the top of the page and put a new note on each line so that I can check them off as I relay information to the actors at the end of the night. If I’m acting, the separate section is filled with notes on character development and suggestions from the director. Music and dance notes can be any myriad of things, from stage diagrams to lyrical contexts, dance routine steps or miscellaneous lists. You can even tape in bits of fabric or magazine cut-outs that inspire you. It’s also a good idea to add a few sheet protectors, an extra seal-able notebook pocket, and a folder page for miscellaneous material.
4. Post-its, sticker note arrows, and tape
Sometimes you can’t write in your script or your music. Sticker note arrows can be used instead. Sometimes you need a note to stick to your music stand or a prop. Post-it notes get the job done quickly and easily. Always have Scotch tape in a travel dispenser so you can repair paper tears. And never, ever, go without a roll of masking tape in your bag, especially if you will be doing any kind of stage setup. An “X” mark on the stage where you or an object is supposed to be will save you a lot of time. And masking tape comes off easily when you are done using it.
5. Pocket knife
This is not just for your bag. I have carried a pocket knife in my pocket every day since I was in college. If you've never carried one, you would be amazed at how many times I have used it and how many people have asked me to borrow it. I prefer a simple one-blade knife, medium size. The Swiss Army knives have so many things packed into them that they are too hard to for me to open. This is the one I carry, but make sure you check yours out in a store before you order. Pocket knives are in the sporting goods section. Pick out a few to try. Find the right size and the right hand grip for you. Make sure you can open and close it easily.
6. Headphones and recording device with playback
If you want to make the most of your downtime, find a quiet hallway and rehearse on your own or with a partner. This can mean running lines, recording your voice and listening to playback, listening to musical cues, practicing chord changes, running dance steps, etc. Purchase a good recording device with playback and headphones for this. Of course if you’re not going to be in the rehearsal space, make sure someone who is there knows where you are and can come get you quickly when it’s go time. You don’t want to make the other performers have to pause rehearsal to wait for you. For the same reason, don’t go too far away.
7. Rehearsal clothes
Depending on what activity you came from and what your particular rehearsal is for, you may want to put an extra set of clothes in your bag. If you’ve come from your day job, change out of your work attire. You won’t get it dirty and you will be more comfortable. Wear something light because you will be hot under the stage lights. If you are an actor, wear your costume as soon as the costume designer will let you. You need to get used to moving in it. Otherwise, wear something similar to your costume, especially if your costume will be restricting your movement or is really flowy. For example, if your costume will involve a corset, buy your own corset to wear for rehearsal. And unless it is required for your performance, don’t wear clothes with prints or large writing. It is distracting to other performers and to a director. Screen actors should especially be careful not to wear tight patterns. The camera really doesn’t like them. Wear solid colors, but not neon or other light-catching ones. Wear black if you are a stagehand or anyone else behind the scenes.
8. Warm clothes that you can layer
You’ll be hot under the lights but cold when you’re in downtime. And there is always downtime. Theatres are notoriously cold and you will want to be able to throw on a sweater or sweatshirt. You can also use a light travel blanket or large scarf. They are both designed to be less bulky so will fit in your bag more easily if it’s already stuffed with your other supplies.
There are a number of reasons that you should not use your street shoes on stage. Dancers will have specialized shoes, but this really applies to any performing artist. First of all, as dirty as they seem sometimes, you really don’t want to get street grime on the stage. You could get something sticky or slick on the floor and neither of those are appealing to a performer. We don’t want to fall onstage or make loud sticky noises when we walk. Not to mention, somebody will be dancing on that floor, whether it’s you or someone else, and it’s much harder to dance on a scratched up floor. It’s also particularly nasty if you are dancing barefoot. Don’t wear loud shoes unless you need to for your particular activity because the clickity-clack can be distracting. If you’re wearing taps, for goodness sake make sure the nails on the bottom are flush with the taps. Otherwise, they will scratch the floor. I once had a tap dance teacher who was very strict about this. She wouldn’t let us wear our taps anywhere but the dance floor and she had to personally witness us check the taps every time we stepped out for the first time in each rehearsal. Actors, wear the shoes that you will be performing in. They will change how you walk, and that is part of your character. Musicians who don’t have special shoes to begin with, like an organist, should wear softer soles so they don’t crush sound system cords if they accidentally step on them. Of course, stepping on them will hurt more, but I bet you’ll pay more attention next time. If you can, wear nonslip shoes so you don’t fall on stage.
Stage lights will wash you out so make sure you bring extra makeup, especially if the lighting designer will be there. He needs to adjust the lights so that you will look your best. Male musicians, don’t be afraid to wear a little makeup. Actors and dancers have been doing it for years. Just adjust for the venue (how far you will be from the audience, whether you will have lights on you, etc.) If nothing else, wear face powder so you’re not shiny. I think Ben Nye makes the best stage makeup. And when you're ready to take it off, use a makeup remover wipe.
Hair can make you hot and hair can get in the way. Get it off your face so you can see and off your neck if you’re too warm. And if you’re wearing a wig, you can never have too many bobby pins with you. That’s worth repeating: bring lots of bobby pins. I once had my wig fall off on stage - during a live performance. Luckily it was at the curtain call, so I was able to laugh it off. I bowed and, bloop, it came off my head. It almost fell into the orchestra pit. So don’t let this happen to you. Trust me, you don’t want to be standing in front of an audience in your wig cap.
12. Glasses and/or extra contact lenses
My eyes have changed recently, so I need reading glasses on top of my contacts to see close up. I carry them everywhere and have multiples stashed in different locations. I need them to see music, text, or anything else really. And though it happens rarely, if I lose a contact, I want to know that I have an extra one. Otherwise, you can count me out of everything I normally do, because I might as well be blind at that point.
Wardrobe malfunctions. Nobody wants them to happen. Not only can they be embarrassing in certain situations (Look up Janet Jackson at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.), they can be dangerous. I have tripped over the broken hem of a skirt before, and trust me, it is not fun.
Stay hydrated and stay energized. Rehearsals can run long, you are under hot lights, and you are active. Water is the healthiest thing that you can drink and tea is good for your throat. Just don’t have too much sugar. It’s a magnet for oral bacteria that can make you sick. And when you get sick, you can’t work. Make sure that the snacks you bring are not noisy. Crumpling of wrappers and crunching sounds are very distracting. Also don’t pack anything that has a strong smell. We don’t all want to smell your food. And here’s my little personal crusade plug: Be kind to the environment. Avoid plastic if you can and pack your food in reusable eco-friendly containers like this or this. Please.
15. Pharmacy and first aid supplies
Basic first aid like band-aids, blister covers, and antibiotic ointment are essential. You will get injured in some way at some time. And if you’re performing outside, pack some sunscreen, bug repellent, and anti-itch cream. It’s really uncomfortable to perform with sunburn and itchy bug bites. Also, you may get headaches or muscle aches. Do yourself a favor and pack some Tylenol, Advil, or whatever else it is that you normally use for such occasions. Cough drops or small hard candies are not a bad idea either. They will keep your throat from getting dry.
You will get sweaty. You will feel better and smell better if you can wipe off. Slippery skin can be particularly dangerous for a dancer during lifts. And you don’t want sweat rolling into your eyes either.
Nobody wants to be stuck with you in rehearsal when you have stinky breath. Period.
18. Other personal hygiene items
Sweaty means smelly so do us all a favor and bring some extra deodorant (this or this). Don’t get spray deodorant or anything that is really perfumy. Other artists may be allergic to certain strong smells. In fact, don’t wear any perfumes at all for that very reason. Nail clippers are great to take care of painful hangnails and if you’re a musician who plays an instrument, you know how important it is to keep your fingernails short. I hate it when I realize that my fingernails are clacking on a keyboard or making it hard to push down on a fretboard and I don’t have any way to cut them. Get a nail care kit that also includes tweezers. Chances are you or a fellow performer will get a splinter at some point.
19. Quiet activity
Again, you will have downtime. Bring something to work on during that downtime. Something quiet so you don’t interrupt everyone else’s rehearsal.
It’s dark in the theatre. It’s dark behind or under the stage and in the wings. You will need light to see, whether you are messing with cords, fixing the button on your costume, reading your script or music offstage, or anything else you may need to do when you are not on stage.
21. Business cards
It is one of my pet peeves when a creative artist does not have a business card with them. What if you meet someone who wants to hire you for entertainment or a project? What if you meet someone that you would really like to network with? You don’t want to fumble with your phone or try to find a pen and paper. You want to be able to reach into your bag or wallet and pull out a business card. (Get a business card holder if they're in your bag.) This is mobile marketing for you. Make sure it has your name, contact information, and what you specialize in. It should also have a picture that represents you, whether that is a logo, drawing, or a photo. Wallets are designed specifically to hold business cards, so it’s easy for someone to slip yours in their wallet and instantly find it later. There is really no excuse not to have business cards. Check your local office supply store. I use Staples. I can design and order them right on their website and then pick them up the same day. They even save the design for me so reordering and updating are easy. And they are very inexpensive.
22. Special items
This is obvious, but worth saying. There will be things that are not on this list that are specific to your craft or your particular rehearsal. Know what they are and bring them.
This is a lot of stuff. You probably won’t be able to carry all of it. But all of it is important. So decide what you definitely will use and put that in your bag. Then, if you drove a car to rehearsal, put what you might use there. Use your best judgement. If you need it all, bring it. I have been known to bring a storage tote tied to a small travel dolly or a large rolling bag with me. Don’t worry about looking like a pack rat. If you are prepared for anything, you will be able to focus on your performance and not whether you forgot anything.
Now go have a great rehearsal and a successful performance!
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